How to Parent Like You’re Stuck on an Airplane

Sarah Gilbert
Written by Sarah Gilbert

I don’t know how you feel about flying, but I find it to be a mixture of limited choices, unusual smells and, every so often, jubilant elation — usually when we land. It’s also an apt metaphor for parenting. 

Once you book the ticket, there aren’t a lot of options about when you leave, how long it takes, and who you sit by. More often than not, the flight is unremarkable and easily forgotten. Only the most talkative amongst us (your mother-in-law?) would spend time detailing where they sat (middle seat, of course), what they ordered (Chex mix! It’s free!) and what they drank (Diet Coke! Also free!). 
 
But there is one parenting lesson that is small, subtle and easily missed if you’re not a good listener that they teach on every flight: Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others. Yes, there it is.
 
Please allow me to translate more directly: If you want your kid to live, you must live first. I have embraced this lesson wholeheartedly.
 
I eat first. Yep. It’s true. At lunchtime on a Saturday, I head to the kitchen and enjoy some quiet time with 2 slices of pie and a vodka tonic before it’s time to dive into making some grilled cheese sandwiches and apple slices for the kids. By the time they arrive for lunch, I’m in a much better mood and have the patience to wait 264 minutes while my daughter whines about finishing her crusts. 
 
I pee first. When we go into a public bathroom or come home from the store, I head right to the toilet in front of them. If they question me, I tell them that they might not understand how this particular toilet works and I need to demonstrate. With middle-age upon me and birthing two kids late in life, I’m the one that’s most at risk for peeing my pants, after all. 
 
I take naps first. This usually happens while I’m driving. I try to keep it limited to the stop lights, but sometimes when the drop-off line gets really slow at the school I doze, just a little. OK. Not really. But I do nap first. I sleep on the weekends in the middle of the afternoon with a pillow on my head and then I get up and brag to them about how great it was hoping they will follow suit. Often, they do. 
 
I buy myself toys first. Just like there are “adult drinks” and “kid drinks” in our house, there are “adult coloring books” and “kid coloring books.” There is also adult make-up, adult dress-up and adult silly putty. 
 
If you do everything for your kids before you doing something for yourself, you are suffocating. I’m serious. And consider what you are teaching them, especially your girls — that women always go last? This is the wrong message. Helpers help themselves first. That’s how they find the energy and the good ideas to help other people. Put on your oxygen mask first. Then assist others. 

About the author

Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert

Sarah writes with sarcasm about science, gender, feminism and fertility issues on her blog sarahanngilbert.com. She is writing a memoir about her experience becoming a parent. Sarah lives in Denver with her wife, two girls and an ungrateful dog. If she had more free time, she would spend it lobbying the state government to make down vests and flip-flops the official uniform of Colorado. You can talk to her on Twitter @sarahanngilbert.

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